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Elsa Chen

Elsa Chen

To many, Poli Sci 198 is more than a course; it’s a path finder

For political Science professor Elsa Chen, teaching the substantive part of her Public Sector Study and Internship class is as important as helping her students find the ideal summer job that will reveal their gifts, their strengths, and sometimes their calling.

The course had already been part of the curriculum by the time Professor Chen started teaching at Santa Clara in 2000.  But over the years, she has expanded the number of internship opportunities for those who are fortunate enough to take one of the 15 spots in this five-unit class, taught in the spring quarter and one summer session.  While students obtain a wide exposure to a variety of fields thanks to a number of guest speakers and assignments that allow them to explore their professional interests, they benefit greatly from the close relationship they forge with Professor Chen.  Together, they target internships in local government offices, non-profit organizations and public interest law offices in the area. “So far, I have not had a student whom I haven’t been able to place because the contacts I have developed over the years are always happy to provide learning opportunities for my students,” says Chen.

Students see the value in this experience, which helps explain why this is one of the first courses to fill during pre-registration.   Whether they intern at the Office of the Mayor, the Public Defender’s Office, Catholic Charities, or any other organization, they know that their work will be meaningful.  Last spring, for instance, Rosella Chapman ’15 did educational policy research while working for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and Caitlin Massey ’15 helped to assess the implementation of Proposition 36, which modified aspects of the California ThreeStrikes law.

The value to the organizations is evident.  The employers, many of whom are Professor Chen’s former students, come to expect from their interns what their former professor emphasized in class: professionalism, a strong work ethic, intellectual flexibility, and exemplary communication skills.

“More than a course, this is an experience that allows students to really assess their strengths and their skills, and match them to what they would like to do professionally.  Equally important is the process of elimination; that is, finding out what they would not want to pursue. That’s key, too.” said Professor Chen.  Along the way, students also expand their network of resources by making their own contacts, or simply by becoming part of Professor Chen’s LinkedIn network, which immediately exposes them to hundreds of her former students—now professionals scattered throughout diverse geographic and professional areas. Soon, they will be joining Professor Chen’s roster of former students and former internship participants.  Soon, like alumni before them, they will gladly and readily accept Professor Chen’s invitation to come speak to her class. They will also open their doors to Santa Clara students seeking valuable work experience. They will certainly know that their participation will make a difference for their fellow Santa Clarans.